According to a survey conducted by the Department of Transportation, the average vehicle trip length in the U.S. is 9.7 miles, including your commute to and from work. If you take out commuting altogether and focus just on errands, shopping, and social or recreational outings, it’s far less. Commuting is one thing, but it seems like such as waste to take the car two miles down the road to get groceries or grab a beer with a friend.
For the past couple of weeks, I borrowed a 9-speed Elby electric bike to challenge myself to become locally car-free. I made a pact to leave the car at home and use the electric bike on all local outings — to the grocery store, to dinner, to the post office, to grab a coffee. The steep hills around Mill Valley generally inhibit the use of a regular bike to run errands, but now I had no excuse with an electric one.
The Elby is a step-through style, unisex electric bike that is über adaptable to fit any size rider. The 500 mm seat post gives you plenty of adjustment room and the handlebars not only move up and down but also pivot up to 40 degrees in either direction. Elby claims the bike will fit riders from 5’ to 6′ 5″ and up to 275 pounds.
What makes the Elby an incredibly fun and efficient ride is the silent yet powerful 500 watt, high torque BionX D-500 rear hub motor system. My current grocery getter — an electric Bullitt cargo bike — uses a 350 watt BionX motor so not as zippy and doesn’t accelerate near as fast as the Elby with its much higher torque.
The motor is powered by a 52-cell, 48-volt, high-output lithium-ion battery housed in the base of the frame. Elby claims it gives you up to 80 miles on a single charge — depending on amount of assist used and terrain ridden, of course. You can charge the battery either on or off the bike and it locks into place, hidden beneath a protective shell. I found it takes around 4 hours or so to fully recharge the battery.
The harder you pedal, the more power the motor adds so you go faster and further with less effort. You get four levels of assist — 35%, 75%, 150%, 300% — or you can use the throttle for an instant burst of speed anytime, no pedaling required. Elby’s nine-speed drivetrain makes it easier to pedal up steep hills or pick up speed on the flats.
Using all four levels of assist and a low gear, I was able to easily ride up Gomez Way near my house — a 20%+ grade hill that I would never be able to ride on my electric cargo bike let alone a regular road bike.
As you ride downhill, BionX’s regenerative braking uses the motor to help slow you down while recharging the battery for an energy bonus — you get a full four levels of generate mode as well. Hydraulic disc brakes enable you to stop quickly when needed — great for riding in urban settings.
For those that think they can’t use an electric bike because their commute or intended ride is too long, think again. I took the Elby on one of my favorite local rides from Mill Valley up Hawk Hill. Over 25 miles and 2,000 feet of elevation gain later, I had barely used half the battery. And it was FUN. I made it up Hawk Hill in less than half the time it would take me on a normal road bike and with considerably less effort.
Note: A couple of times the motor shut itself off as I was pedaling uphill. This is not unique to the Elby but supposedly a common issue with hub motors at slower speeds. It wasn’t a big deal as I simply pressed the plus button and it kicked back in again.
Accessory features on the Elby include a high-intensity Supernova lighting system for the font and rear, a built-in rear rack system with an integrated fender, and a heavy-duty kickstand to prevent tip-overs.
The Elby is powered on via the handlebar controller where you will also find the assist buttons, throttle, and control for the lights. A removable, color LCD bike computer in the middle of the handlebars shows you: Speed, Battery Level (10 Bars), Battery Percentage, Assist Level (1-4), Regeneration Level (1-4), Odometer, Trip Timer, Trip Distance, Average Speed, Clock, Setup, Lights Indicator, Assist Level Gauge, and Assist Percentage. Just below you’ll find a USB charger for your phone.
I am a big fan of electric bikes — definitely for commuting and running errands but even as a way of riding further or longer than you could on your own power. What a great way for two people to ride together if your fitness or endurance levels are not equal.
I also believe the speed of an e-bike makes you safer in traffic as you are traveling at a similar speed to the cars. I absolutely loathe riding along Highway 1 out towards Muir Beach as there is no shoulder, the curvy road makes for tons of blind corners and encourages people to pass you at inappropriate times and almost always way too close. When riding the Elby up Highway 1, however, I was going the same speed if not faster than traffic in many cases so could claim my spot in the middle of the road as just another vehicle.
My two-week electric cruiser bike experiment was a success and left me wanting to add another bike to my growing quiver. The Elby comes in both a single-speed and 9-speed version, and retails for $3500 – $3700. You can choose between 5 color options as well. For the less mechanically inclined, Elby works with Velofix to bring the bike to your door, assembled, fitted, charged, and ready to go. And they’ll come back anytime you need your Elby maintained or serviced.
Ease of Operation9
Can go relatively long distances before recharging.
Fast with quick acceleration. Easily climbs steep hills.
Comes with lifestyle accessories such as lights, fenders, and rack mounts.
Comfortable, stable ride and super easy to operate.
Heavier than a normal bike - not ideal if you live 5 flights up.
Tough to lock properly.
As with any e-bike, maintenance is a bit more intensive.